Experts say now is not the time for people with autoimmune diseases to stop taking their medicines.

People with autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis and lupus often take medicines that suppress their immune system as part of their treatment, but there are reports some people have stopped taking their medication due to COVID fears.

Complicating the situation is that various people including Clive Palmer and US President Donald Trump have been suggesting that medicines commonly used to treat lupus might work against COVID-19 in people without autoimmune issues, affecting supply in some areas.

Associate Professor Phillip Robinson and Dr Evan Bursle from the University of Queensland are advising people with autoimmune diseases to keep taking their medicines as prescribed if possible, even during the COVID-19 pandemic.

‘A healthy immune system helps protect the body from infections including viruses like coronavirus,’ said Associate Professor Robinson. ‘However, for people with autoimmune diseases, the body’s own immune system attacks itself which is why immunosuppressants are used in treatment.

‘From what we know from currently available studies, people taking immunosuppressants are no more likely than the general population to be hospitalised for COVID-19, to need oxygen in hospital, or to die from the infection.

‘It remains important, however, to keep autoimmune diseases under control. This is why international rheumatology guidelines recommend that people with autoimmune disease only stop treatment if they get COVID-19.

‘For people with suspected or confirmed COVID-19, suspending the immunosuppressant medicines may be appropriate depending on the circumstances of the individual person.

‘If you do find yourself in this situation, your doctor will advise you of the best course of action for you,’ said Associate Professor Robinson.

Find out more in Australian Prescriber.